Malcesine guide

Malcesine trip planner

A vacation guide to Malcesine, a medieval town on the eastern, Veneto shores of Lake Garda

Malcesine, Lago di Garda
Malcesine. (Photo by Mike Fleming)

Starting in the 13th century, much of the eastern shore of Lake Garda fell under the dominion of Verona's Scaglieri family, who fortified Sirmione, Torri del Benaco, and Malcesine with terribly atmospheric medieval castles—and the one here in Malcesine very nearly got the famous German writer Wolfgang von Goethe, author of Faust, killed as a spy.

The castle

Scaglier Castle, Malcesine, Lago di Garda
Castello Scaligero, Malcesine. (Photo by Ell Brown)
Malcesine is dominated by the mighty Rocca Scaligera (tel. +39-045-657-0333), built atop a crag of rock in the town center between 1277 and 1387.

The castle has spiffy vistas, lots of stone stairways to clamber up and down whilst exploring the ramparts, and several exceedingly modest museums of a few rooms each.

One collection is dedicated to local natural history, another to the town's prehistory.

Another collection has bits from a Venetian galley sunk in the lake in 1439 or 1509, and a fourth is devoted to traditional culture (by which I mean fishing).

The sketches that got Goethe arrested as a spy in Malcesine
The sketches that got Goethe arrested as a spy in Malcesine. (Photo by Florian K)
There is also a pair of rooms devoted to Goethe, complete with a bronze bust and (get this) copies of the sketches that nearly got the famed German scribe imprisoned as a spy.

The Castello Scagliero is open daily 9:30am to 7pm (in winter, open weekends only noon to 5pm).

Goethe's story

Goethe had just crossed the Alps and seen his very first olive trees.

He was enchanted by Italy already, and he hadn't even gotten to see any of the Roman ruins he had embarked upon his Italian Journey to behold.

Wolfgang von Goethe bust in Malcesine, Lago di Garda.
A bust of Wolfgang von Goethe in the castle of Malcesine. (Photo by Ell Brown)
His boat docked in Malcesine, and he was busily working away at his second sketch of the castle when the locals accosted him.

Hearing his Germanic accent, and seeing him making detailed drawings of their mighty fortress, they promptly arrested him as an Austrian spy.

Luckily, a fellow in town by the name of Gregorio had lived and worked in Frankfurt for a while, and they brought him in to cross-examine Goethe about the landmarks and citizens of his hometown

Satisfied that the erstwhile sketcher was a crazy German with an affection for ruined castles, they let him wander around town, accompanied by Gregorio.

He eventually left town with a basket of fruit from Gregorio's garden.

Not that anywhere in Malcesine will you find that part of the story written down. No, they're just proud that Goethe came to stay here for a while. In fact, the city fathers have places plaques on every bit of town they're reasonably sure he saw or sat near (no, really).

Malcesine — The town

A street in Malcesine
An allet in Malcesine. (Photo by Marc Wellekötter)
Malcesine today is a pleasant middle-class resort is a warren of pebble-paved alleys lined by generally inexpensive boutiques—enough to attarct the interst of Kafka in 1909, and Gustav Klimt in 1913 (if you happen to visit Austria, you can see his paintings of Malcesine in the Lederer collections in Vienna and Graz).

The church of Santo Stefano houses an early 16th-century Deposition by Girolamo dei Luini.

Monte Baldo

View of Malcesine from the cable car up Monte Baldo
View of Malcesine from the cable car up Monte Baldo. (Photo by Spencer Wright)
A funivia (cable car; tel. +39-045-740-0206; runs half-hourly up to Monte Baldo, a natural reserve thickly blanked with holm oak, olive, and laurel.

Atop Monte Baldo is a high alpine plain with plenty of hiking trails (

Tips & links


Malcesine tourist office
Via Gardesana 238
tel. +39-045-740-0044

Recommended hotels in Malcesine
How to get to Malcesine

Verona is the closest major city, where you can catch one of the roughly hourly buses (tel. +39-045-805-7911, to Malcesine (1:45 to 2 hr.) via Bardolino (50 min. from Malcesine). The same line continues on to (and returns from) Riva del Garda (25 min. from Malcesine).

How to get around Lake Garda

If you don't take a tour or have a rental car (recommended), the easiest way is by bus (tel. +39-045-805-7911, for the eastern shore) or—less frequently but far, far more scenically—by boat (

Useful links & resources

Share this page

Intrepid Travel 25% off



Malcesine tourist office
Via Gardesana 238
tel. +39-045-740-0044

Useful links

Train tix

Shortcuts to popular planning sections:

Airfares, Cars, Trains, Tours, Packages, Cruises, Lodging, Itineraries, Info, Packing, Prep, Comm

Follow ReidsItaly
Follow ReidsItaly on Twitter  Join the ReidsItaly fan page  Follow Reids Italy Adventures blog